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You might not think that war is a place for models and art projects, but you”d be wrong. In fact, one of the most top secret operations of World War II involved these things, and it was this outlandish operation that actually helped cement the victory of the Allied forces.

So what happened?

First of all, you have to understand just how top secret these images were. Up until 1996, these pictures had never been seen, and the operation was never talked about.

First of all, you have to understand just how top secret these images were. Up until 1996, these pictures had never been seen, and the operation was never talked about.

Some details of the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops are still classified. But we know that this division was made up of around 1,000 soldiers and they staged more than 20 “battlefield deceptions.” They became known as the Ghost Army.

This was the Ghost Army”s actual logo. You can”t get much cooler.

This was the Ghost Army

The soldiers were made up of artists, designers, actors, sound technicians, and architects, many of them pulled from prestigious art schools throughout the U.S. They used their knowledge to create the illusion of 30,000 troops moving in for an attack by way of dummies, models, and phony radio transmissions. They distracted the enemy from the real attacks that were taking place miles away. These specialized troops arrived in France just after D-Day with a collection of inflatables, models, and recordings in tow.

It might not look like much from the ground, but a plane passing overhead would easily mistake these models for real planes and tanks.

It might not look like much from the ground, but a plane passing overhead would easily mistake these models for real planes and tanks.

Sure, this sounds like something out of a movie (and, in fact, many of the same tricks were used), but this dummy army really did make a difference. Not only did they create inflatable tanks, Jeeps, and trucks, but they also blasted recordings of the sounds of heavy artillery that could be heard from 20 kilometers away to complete the illusion of a whole army moving in for the attack.

On the left, one of the speaker systems used by the Ghost Army to simulate the sound of a major force moving in. On the right, one of the fake pieces of machinery created by the troops.

On the left, one of the speaker systems used by the Ghost Army to simulate the sound of a major force moving in. On the right, one of the fake pieces of machinery created by the troops.

The soldiers created everything to convince the enemy of a large-scale invasion. After inflating the fake tanks, they painted them with camouflage that was just slightly imperfect to insure that the Nazi army would be able to spot them and report back with the misinformation. Single soldiers would drive empty trucks in loops to simulate truckloads of infantry moving into position. Even fake camps were created, down to prop laundry hanging on lines. All of this was used to divert attention from actual maneuvers being carried out elsewhere. By occupying the enemy”s attention, actual missions could be carried out with more ease. And besides diverting attention, Nazi forces would also waste valuable munitions bombing these fake machines.

Soldiers learn how to paint something that they want to be spied by the enemy.

Soldiers learn how to paint something that they <em>want</em> to be spied by the enemy.

One of the schematics for an inflatable tank, modeled after an M4.

One of the schematics for an inflatable tank, modeled after an M4.

From the air, the dummies looked pretty convincing, like this setup near the towns of Anrath and Dulken.

From the air, the dummies looked pretty convincing, like this setup near the towns of Anrath and D&uuml;lken.

Finally, as the last piece of the puzzle, soldiers with acting backgrounds were positioned in French towns, posing as generals and other high-ranking officials. They would put themselves in public places and talk loudly about the staged operations, making sure they would be overheard by the enemy.

In addition to creating a fake army, the artists and designers of the Ghost Army also put their skills to use in documenting what they saw, creating a record that would teach future generations about World War II. It would also come to influence the post-war art world. The Ghost Army”s recruits included fashion designer Bill Blass and painter Ellsworth Kelly.

Cartoonist Bill Mauldin sketches with a smirk amid bombed-out buildings.

Cartoonist Bill Mauldin sketches with a smirk amid bombed-out buildings.

(via MessyNessyChic, PBS)

In all, the Ghost Army staged more than 20 “operations” in France, Belgium, Luxembourg, and Germany. At the very end of the war, the Ghost Army had to stage a deception on the banks of the Rhine in Germany, with thousands of lives depending on the performance”s success. It was convincing enough, and helped defeat the Nazis once and for all.

Yet for their greatest illusion, the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops faded into obscurity for more than 50 years. We”re only just now finding out about what this team did from the shadows to help with the war.

Read on for more stories of deception.

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